A Commentary (Oct 1934)
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132 ] A Commentary The Criterion: A Literary Review, 14 (Oct 1934) 86-90 The annual report of the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty grows yearly more impressive.1 The map of England and Wales is dotted with preserves of the National Trust, the greatest success being apparently in the Lake District.2 And what is remarkable, and most commendable, is the fact that the work has been done by the labour and the benefactions of a considerable number of persons.3 The total of donations, to the end of 1933, appears to be under three hundred and fifteen thousand pounds,4 and the list includes a great many individuals; a few years ago, a single American millionaire could have provided the whole sum. It would seem that the kind of work that the National Trust does in preservation has appealed to a general public spirit which is the best assurance of its continuation. Eminent persons so different as Lord Curzon (representing Historic Interest) and Viscount Grey (representing Natural Beauty) have supported it;5 it has had the invaluable advertisement of the impressive photographs of threatened districts which appear in The Times;6 but what is most important is that it has obviously stirred the feelings of a very large number of people. I do not in any way depreciate the value of the National Trust, or belittle the generosity of those who have given labour, money and land, in suggesting that the existence of such a society as a permanent and important institution in the country gives rise to curious reflections which may be worth examination. Surely we are living in a very odd and unsatisfactory state of society, when such a struggle has to be carried on to preserve England from destruction and disfigurement. For what is the process going on, the existence of which is tacitly assumed by these worthy efforts? Does it lead to the eventual partition of England into two parts, one overrun and ravaged by human beings, and the other protected from human beings; and are the members of the National Trust satisfied that all is well in proportion to the extent of England which can be acquired for “preserves”? It is excellent to do what we can in the present state of affairs; but it would be better that those who are making such generous efforts, and who are therefore in a position to come to think in more general terms, should not content their [ 133 A Commentary (oct) hearts and consciences with the thought that this is all that needs doing. For when such work has to be done, we must acknowledge that we are interfering, in a way never before attempted in history, with natural development ; and when natural development has to be interfered with, ought we not to look a little deeper and try to do something about the “nature” which develops in such an unpleasant way? What we should be interested to read, besides a list of the properties so far acquired, and some knowledge of their beauties or historical importance , is a detailed account of what, in each case, the several properties have been preserved from. What would have happened to the properties? How many of them would have been developed in a reasonable way to satisfy just needs, and how many for purposes which have no justification anywhere ? Sometimes, no doubt, the sites have been wanted for putting up houses which could just as well be put up round the corner. But we want to form some notion of the nature of the forces which we may expect to be active in destruction of the beauty of England in the future. We want to know how much is accounted for by causes such as the increase of the population ; how much by vandalism; how much by “speculative building”;7 how much may be attributed to fundamental defects in the social system. We should like to know the part played by Estate Duties, and whether anything ought to be done about that.8 The existence of such an institution as the National Trust, and the present necessity for its existence, seems to me to imply some pretty drastic criticism of contemporary society; and we should like all the people interested in the preservation of “beauty spots” to investigate a state of society in which beauty spots have to be preserved. It is difficult to be quite whole-hearted in one’s support of the...